by Sr. Sheila Campbell, MMM Ireland 26.09.2023
Nowadays we are used to jumping on a plane, off on a summer holiday. Business people fly all over the world, working as they travel. Despite our concerns nowadays about “carbon footprints”, air travel is still considered common and normal. But it was not always so!
When Sr. Kevin McDonagh, one of our MMM pioneers set off with another Sister for her missionary work in Nigeria in 1949, flying was a different story. Could we cope with this nowadays?
The journey began in Dublin on Monday, June 6th. The airport was called Collinstown in those days. Mother Mary was standing outside on the tarmac, and they were able to wave to her as they took off. They had a short stop in London and then were Africa-bound.
“Off we sailed again through the clouds, and after a while we noticed what looked like a little mist under the wing. ‘Condensation’, I thought (very cleverly) to myself. But still, it did not dry off when we left the clouds behind us. At about 7pm the Captain came along to tell us the plane had an oil leakage and that we would have to land in Marseilles. We landed at 8.30pm… Customs again, more forms to be filled up and passports to be examined. A shower of mosquitos came along, hungry for Irish blood.”
The next day, Tuesday, the same plane flew them over Sardinia, then Tunis, and landed at Tripoli. At the former RAF base at Castel Benito, a hostess informed them that they would be leaving ‘at twenty-three of the clock’. This gave them an opportunity to go outside and take their first walk under an African moon. That night, Sr. Kevin managed to sleep as they flew southwards over the Sahara Desert to reach Kano, in northern Nigeria. This was early on Wednesday morning. The plane stopped for breakfast and refuelling and eventually arrived in Lagos – to find that their plane for Port Harcourt had already taken off. Nothing would be available until the following Tuesday morning!
After enjoying the hospitality of the Daughters of Charity for almost a week, they turned up at the airport the following Tuesday, but on the same day a tornado also arrived! The heavy rain continued all day Wednesday. But nevertheless, the plane took off.
“Next thing we were told was that there was something wrong with the oil gauge. Instead of landing in Port Harcourt, we ended up in Enugu.” The Holy Rosary Sisters came to the rescue this time, and they stayed overnight with them. On the Thursday, this was the 15th, they travelled by road to Abakaliki, and it was still raining. She finally reached her destination in Anua at the end of June, her first mission assignment of many.
What a journey! I wonder how long it would take by boat?